Africa Today 48.3 (2001) 170-172
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This second edition of Historical Dictionary of Nigeria is the fortieth in the series of African historical dictionaries edited by Jon Woronoff. Its purpose, as specified in the editor's foreword, is to facilitate an understanding of "what Nigeria, an exceptionally variegated and often confusing nation, was, is, and can be." [End Page 170]
The authors begin by providing a useful ten-page chronology of historical events and developments in Nigeria from 800 to 29 May 1999, the date of the inauguration of Nigeria's Fourth Republic. Throughout the work, they painstakingly illuminate what Nigeria was and is. But in the end they do not offer any prognosis or discussion of what Nigeria "can be." Even though such a prognosis may be speculative the omission is a serious one given contemporary developments in the nation.
The authors' introduction to the dictionary is a well written and succinct survey of the geography, culture, history, economic and social development, and problems of Nigeria. The authors identify the nation's major ethnic groups, towns, rivers, vegetation belts, seasons, staple crops and foods, as well as its natural resources and neighboring states. Next, they provide an extensive who's who for Nigeria's political, educational, social, and economic development. This includes indigenous as well as external (other African and overseas forces) personalities and organizations that contributed or are contributing to the making and development of Nigeria. This particular approach adds a special flavor to the history and understanding of Nigeria as a civilization into which many waters, native and foreign, have flowed. Understanding Nigeria is thus rightly perceived as an understanding of all the people and events that have left their mark on the West African nation. There is, however, an element of superficiality in the historical survey in that it is essentially a narration, rather than a critique of the problems of Nigerian governance and nation building. A careful and meticulous reading of the dictionary will convince the reader that Nigeria's problems are rooted in its history and the quality of its leadership.
The dictionary entries, A to Z, covering 530 pages, include biographies of varying lengths, copious information about education, political developments, political parties and organizations, struggle for the allocation and share of Nigeria's wealth and resources, religious groups and organizations, professional associations, banking corporations and establishments, states and state capitals, international organizations, and personalities which have collectively had a significant impact on Nigeria. There are very brief entries on fundamental human rights and genocide allegations during the civil war, but conspicuously absent are separate entries on both Nigeria's human rights record as well as human rights nongovernmental organizations in the country.
The biographical entries provide biographical data and sketches of 310 men and women who have played a role in Nigeria's national life. Most do not mention the specific contributions of the individuals to Nigeria's national life. They simply inform the reader about their place of birth, education, and the office to which they were appointed. In a number of cases, their works are cited to facilitate additional research. Entries on events and developments are more extensive and insightful than those on individuals. The dictionary is therefore uneven in its utility as a reference source.
Considerable space is devoted to elucidating the meaning and significance of terminologies, phrases and expressions in the context of Nigerian [End Page 171] history and experience, culture, as well as her constitutional, political and economic development. The entries are cross referenced wherever the authors deemed it necessary. But they probably would be more useful to the reader and researcher had they been grouped and organized or categorized topically or thematically and yet presented in an alphabetical order. Though by no means exhaustive, the fifty-one page bibliography is a valuable component of the work. It is organized serially into seven categories: General, Economics, Education, History, Military History, Politics, and Society. Perhaps reflecting the dominant role the military...